The powerful winter storm on March 13 brought much of metro Denver to a halt, including classes and activities at CU Denver. The storm also prompted questions about how, when and why campus closures are instituted. Here are some answers.
Campus safety first and foremost
During the recent campus closure, Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC) Facility Services crews were out plowing, shoveling, de-icing and making the campus as safe as possible for users.
“The safety of the campus community, including students, faculty and staff, is the critical factor in making closure decisions,” said AHEC Chief Operations Officer Jeff Stamper, who is responsible for Facilities Services. “That said, it is difficult to account for every member of the community given geographic differences.”
For example, while weather and driving conditions along the Interstate 25 corridor or throughout the foothills may be problematic during a given weather event, those conditions likely wouldn’t force a campus closure, as they likely affect only a portion of campus users.
Additionally, Stamper explained, Auraria Campus closures generally don’t mirror closures declared by Denver Public Schools and other area school districts, because the Auraria Campus is not responsible for transporting young children. As the Auraria Campus’ adult students are primarily responsible for their transportation decisions, administrators from all three institutions hope students – as well as faculty and staff – will feel empowered to make individual judgment calls on their ability to make a safe commute.
For more information, please reference the Campus Closure Policy approved by the AEC.
Collective decision-making across three institutions
Campus closure decisions are always made collectively and cooperatively by the members of the Auraria Executive Council (AEC) or their designees — which include leadership from each of the three institutions on campus, as well as AHEC.
AEC members receive information directly from the National Weather Service (NWS) in Boulder and also consult with Stamper of AHEC Facilities Services. AHEC officials participate in public-safety conference calls with the NWS and consult with campus safety officials before and during a storm. The officials then evaluate the information with Facilities Services to gauge the team’s ability to keep the campus accessible and safe.
With the recent storm, for example, AHEC staff began monitoring forecasts and participating in NWS conference calls on March 11, said Blaine Nickeson, AHEC’s chief of safety and communications. On March 12 at 7 p.m., the AEC collectively decided to close the campus for March 13. Campus communications staff immediately began the notification process, which continued with a late-open announcement on March 14 after a decision by the AEC early that morning.
The broader impact of campus closures
A decision to close campus has other impacts beyond the academic component. It affects a broader ecosystem on the campus, including food vendors, which are primarily run by small-business owners, Stamper said. Hourly employees, including many student employees, also aren’t paid during a closure, as they’re unable to work. Closures can also affect campus events, athletic contests and private events held on campus.
While the three institutions and AHEC officials often field concerns about campus being kept open to avoid loss of parking revenue, Stamper said parking fees are never a factor or a point of discussion among AEC members during the decision-making process.
For students and employees experiencing frustration with the process, Stamper noted that, like Facilities Services crews, campus communicators are also working hard behind the scenes to keep everyone in the loop. Using information and decisions provided by the AEC, university and AHEC communication teams work together to keep messages timely, accurate and consistent across all university media outlets; to address student and employee questions and concerns; and to continue improving the emergency alert and communication process.